Friday, June 23, 2017

On Being an Empath Amidst the VONA Magic

This is Essay #25 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished, totally messy!) essay each week during 2017.

VONA Faculty & Diem Jones, executive director of VONA

It’s hard being an empath. No matter how much I try to protect myself, there is only so much I can do. Maybe there is more to learn about protective measures that I don’t yet know. But that didn’t help me last night.

Yesterday, I drove down to Philly to attend the VONA faculty reading at UPenn. VONA’s my writing family, but I haven’t seen anyone in real life in years. I was looking forward to it.

About fifteen minutes before the event was supposed to start, lots of people began to fill Bodeck Lounge in Houston Hall. There was a mix of participants from this week’s workshops and local alumni and the general public. By the time the reading kicked off, it was a full house. I started to feel... I don't know... my fingers have paused over the keys while my mind files through possible adjectives: nuts, crazy, uncomfortable, restless, but none fit the bill—Let’s put it this way: my body’s vibration shot through the roof. It was so high that I had to leave the room. I couldn’t figure out if this was good energy or not. All I know is that it was overwhelming.

I found a corner of Houston Hall where no one could see me, sat down in an armchair cross-legged, and tried to breathe. I rubbed my palms on my knees, trying to calm down. On the inside, I was freaking out. What was this? Where was this coming from? Whose energy was this? Was it coming from everyone? All at once?

I started breath of fire. It was all I could do to try to get myself grounded. I started crying. (Ego says: WTF? Soul says: the body knows what she needs to do.) I didn’t want to move from that spot. I didn’t want to go back in.

After about 3 minutes of breath of fire, I switched to long slow deep breaths. That seemed to work. I calmed down and went back in. But then, as soon as I sat down, it started up again. My vibration was so high I could feel the potential for levitation. (I’m serious) I imagined myself a balloon: I’d just float on out of there. I still couldn’t figure out if this was good energy or not, but I didn’t have a choice. The reading was starting. I had to (try to) sit still. I took measured breaths and said a prayer (“please help me keep it together”).

Eventually, my body calmed down. And I could listen.

And man, what I heard was amazing. Devastating. Phenomenal.

I’m not exaggerating. I think I cried the entire time.

Reyna & Faith read stories about their fathers and the relationships with them. To which I asked myself: what’s my father story? (A question to be explored at a later date.) Kim gave a great monologue from one of her plays. Marjorie kicked ass with her excerpt from her novel about mother and daughter covered in demon tattoos (I read The Iron Hunt & loved it! Women who kick ass. Literally.). David read a couple of poems, one in which he describes the heartbreak of his son’s friend’s murder (the friend was Somali). To which I say to myself, through tears: it’s so fucking hard to parent in this day and age; what it must be like to be David, trying to help his son get through this; what it must be like to be his dead friend’s mother – to lose your child so suddenly, so brutally. Danez read a poem about the things he wanted to say, but can’t –for many reasons listed in the poem. In which I considered, through more tears, silence. I considered the things we say without saying it, what is said in those silences, what it means to say something aloud or on paper – to manifest it outside of our bodies, what it means to not say them.

And then Patricia. Damn. Patricia “tear your heart out” Smith. She read –well, rather, performed a poem (with a few of her workshop students) about Dee'Anna Reynolds, the four–year-old daughter of Diamond, who was in the backseat of the car when Philando was shot and killed. The poem took turns between what a four-year-old perceives to be death as illustrated by cartoons (“they always come back”) and the sudden push into adulthood by her witness to the murder of her mother’s boyfriend. I imagined my kids when they were four and the tears fell free. I am still reeling from that poem. I have goosebumps as I type this.

I am of two minds after this event:

1. Poetry matters. Literature matters. Heck, writing fucking matters. It reminds us of who we are, what we are: living, breathing, feeling human beings. Terrible and beautiful, heartbreaking fuck-ups. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m not all kumbaya – there are muthafucking shitheads out there, for sure. The work is in how to see their humanity when they don’t recognize, when they don’t see ours. There’s a line in Danez’s poem that stayed with me – and I’m paraphrasing: I believe in nonviolence a little less every day. Lord, I hear that.)

2. I want to quit being a poet. Because what would be the point? (Yes, yes. See Number 1, you idiot. But what would be the point since there are people doing it better than me? I know, I know: what kind of fucking talk is that? Everyone has their own path, their own pace, their own story to tell. Yeah, yeah. Trust me – I have conversations about this with myself all the fucking time.)

So where does all of this leave me right now?

I don’t know. I’m still thinking about four-year-old Diana Reynolds. I’m thinking about all the shit I see online. I just saw police drag protesters OUT OF THEIR FUCKING WHEELCHAIRS to remove them from the building. I just saw a video of a black woman in tears, telling us how scared she was after just having been pulled over by police (Fortunately, she said, he was a nice officer and genuinely wanted to make sure she was okay, but her point of the video was that it wasn’t okay she was that terrified).

And I’m taking it all in. And it’s breaking my heart.

I need to figure out stronger ways to protect myself and my energy, to practice vigilant self-care. What good am I to anyone if I am not 100%? It’s like how they tell you on airplanes: secure your oxygen mask before assisting others.

So now I think I need a game plan. A tiny-step-by-tiny-step plan. What that looks like I have yet to figure out. For now, I just want to crawl under the blankets for a little while.

Oh, and here's a photo of me & Junot to close it out:

(Oh yeah, and that's another story: the strangeness of Old Self fighting for space in the New Self while encountering loved ones from the Old Self's life. For the record, both Old & New Self love Junot.)

1 comment:

  1. This is what I LOVE about you and this piece. I'm so fucking invested in #2!

    And that, dear friend, is what I'm going to write about...(Okay, I might be using parts of #1 as prompt too!).